If you made a Lenten plan and if you are working the best you can to fulfill this plan – AMEN! Keep up the great spiritual work! If you allowed Ash Wednesday to pass without a plan in place — it is not too late. It is far better to look at the 40 days ahead rather than the few that are in the rear-view mirror. It is not too late to reflect and begin to live this Lent well. Similarly, if you have begun, but stumbled a little, it is time to “pick yourself up, brush yourself off and start again!”
This is the message of Lent…this is the message of our Catholic Faith…and this is clearly the message of our Scripture this Sunday. We are reminded in the book of Genesis of the story of Noah. Here is a man who was told by God (paraphrasing Him): “OK Noah…I am going to give you some time to get ready for a cataclysmic event that will shake the world. I need you to focus and work My Will and not yours. Ready…Go!”
Looking at our first parents in the Genesis story, it was through Adam that sin entered and it is through the (new Adam) Jesus Christ, that redemption entered, our world and lives. Adam put God to the test and gave in to the temptation of sin, as he tried to seize for himself all that God had already promised him.
Noah, in contrast, says to the world, “I will trust You know what You are doing. Everyone thinks I am weird for observing Your rules. But – I’ll trust I will be better off working out Your Plan for me.
We live in Grace. Jesus Christ was obedient until death (death on the Cross) and in the power of Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection we have the power to realize that sin no longer masters us. Lent is our call to Trust and Believe that the power of Grace is alive in our very lives, and that it is stronger than the power of temptation and sin.
As we begin to live Lent we need to recognize this season as a season of Repentance. As we live in this period of repentance, we grow in confidence in God and in His mercy, compassion and love. Lent, especially through our repentance, opens our individual heart, mind and soul to allow Jesus to transform us to live with a new heart, a new mind and a new soul. This is why we are called by the Church to deeper prayer, adoration of the Eucharist, sacrifice, fasting, abstinence, service and charity. These become the vehicles, working together in a dynamic (like God and Noah working together), for us to open ourselves to God’s Grace.
Remember, we have just begun to live Lent. It is never too late to begin to grow closer to Jesus in repentance, prayer, sacrifice and service. In doing so, we will emerge stronger as we allow the “new Adam,” Jesus Christ, to reign and triumph over temptation and sin in our personal choices. May God bless you, and our Mother Mary watch over and intercede for you always…but most especially during this season of Lent!
I am sure you join me in thinking: “Lent, already? Really?” With the sub-zero temperatures, it is difficult to think that we are actually in Lent, but we are and so the simple question: “Do you have your Lenten plan in place?” Also, “What is Lent really all about?”
The season of Lent is a time to reflect back on our Baptism and how we practically live our Sacrament of Baptism on a daily basis. Regretfully, some people today may see Baptism just as a family tradition or custom, but it is really a living reality. The grace of Baptism forms us as part of the Body of Christ and connects us to one another as a real family in our parish and throughout the Diocese of Sioux Falls. And, when you think about it, when you come into any Catholic church, the grace of Baptism connects us to Catholics and Christians throughout the world and to our brothers and sisters who have gone before us and share in the next chapter of life eternal.
Eternal life begins at the moment we are conceived. We transition from life in the womb to life outside of the womb. Baptism is the grace that unites us to God and addresses the estrangement caused by original sin. To truly live our Baptism means that we live as a faithful son or daughter of God. Growing up, I remember a teacher (from the Deep South) had a strange phrase that I heard over and over again. Whenever we would go to recess (or head home) she would remind say: “Remember, don’t make shame!” That simple phrase reminded me to live as a boy, teenager, young man and now an adult man in a manner worthy of our Catholic name; to bring honor to our faith and not disgrace. To live our Baptism means the same. We are to live as a faithful son or daughter, not making shame (meaning avoiding sin). We are to live a life faithful to the teaching of God as the objective standard of Truth. We are to live knowing that we belong to the Body of Christ, and not as some abandoned and isolated being.
Though we may not have anyone seeking to join the parishes this Easter, we can learn a great lesson from the Catechumens of our Church during this Season of Lent. Our Catechumens remind us of the quest for Truth as they break open the Word of God and as they search for understanding in the teachings and life of the Church. Our Catechumens have an eager joy which directs them, and us, to thirst for God. In a few short weeks we will hear Jesus say “I thirst” as He hung upon the Cross. These two simple words remind us to do the same, to thirst for God. Lent is a time of a “desert journey” and our image of a desert is to thirst. A desert is really a place filled with life. I recall many years ago taking a day-long tour of the Great Salt Lake desert in Utah. It was an awesome experience as I learned of the life which exists in the dry climate of the dessert. I learned where the sources of water existed as well as the sources for food and essential nutrients which all exist within the desert. (And, weirdly, I saw the beauty of animal and plant life that naturally exist in the desert.)
Please allow Lent to be a desert experience for you. See the life that exists when we simplify our daily running around. See the richness and inner peace that comes from eliminating “things” and “running to events,” and simply exploring a life with God. See the source of food, water and essential nutrients which exist in our Sacraments, Adoration Chapel, adult small group continuing education. See the many opportunities in the area (even from other parishes around us) as nutrients leading to a full and healthy life with God in this world, all in preparation for the transition from life on earth to life with God in the kingdom to come.
This coming Monday and Tuesday, the Church will be celebrating the Feast Days of some fascinating people St. Agatha (Monday) and St. Paul Miki and His companions (Tuesday). Today is a natural day to reflect on the meaning of our own Baptism and exactly what Baptism means in our Church and life of faith. It seems that life often takes on different themes at different times. Recently, it seems that many questions regarding Baptism have presented themselves to me. Let’s take a few moments to consider the meaning of Baptism.
Basically, Baptism implies the participation in the mystery of Jesus Christ and His Body…the Church. We are Baptized to be members of the Body of Christ. In the 21st century, a person can be Baptized into a particular Christian tradition. Although many of the Christian traditions recognize each other’s Baptism as being valid, there are some Christian traditions that do not. Even though different Christian traditions may acknowledge each other’s Baptism as valid…it also does not mean that you are a member of that particular denomination or church. Up to the Reformation, there was one Catholic / Orthodox (Christian) Church. From the time of the Reformation onward, there are many different Christian churches, and the Roman Catholic Church is one of the many Christian traditions.
Why do I raise this simple and obvious point? I have observed that some families right here at our various parishes are attempting to raise their children in two different Christian (and at times non-Christian) religious denominations. It seems that this generally is being done because the parents are of two different religions and desire to have their children learn both faiths. These parents want their children to make a decision on their own (when they become an adult) as to which church they wish to identify with. When a couple is married in the Catholic Church, the priest MUST HAVE the couple agree to: fidelity, openness to having children…and the children of the marriage will be baptized AND RAISED Catholic. If this is not agreed to…the priest IS NOT PERMITTED to marry the couple.
Every analogy is weak, but permit me one. There are different ways of educating children. Today, the two most popular forms of education remain the traditional school/classroom model and home-schooling. I do not know any family where the parents, wishing to expose their children to both methods – have them in a school all day and then come home to be homeschooled for another six hours. Both traditional school/ classroom education and home-schooling provide an education and have different reasons, methods and philosophies behind them. Parents choose one method to follow and do not follow both at the same time.
In terms of faith, the same is true. This is a real problem and I fear one that will lead minimally to our children growing up confused, and maximally lead to their abandoning faith altogether. They do not and will not have a strong foundation.
Each denomination or religion in the West has their particular beliefs. For example, the Catholic Church is the only one with seven Sacraments. We are the only ones who believe, in the Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Penance. With our contemporary world, in light of the Supreme Court decision regarding marriage, some Christian churches have departed to a more-secular understanding of marriage within their religion. Other churches, like our Catholic Church, have maintained a traditional, God-defined understanding of Marriage. These are only a couple of examples.
The interpretation and understanding of Scripture also depends on which church you belong. Some subscribe to a historical-critical method of interpretation…while others are very literal and fundamental in determining its meaning. Other interpretation methods also exist. Finally, the rooting of the moral life also depends on “sola scriptura”, faith and good works, and/ or Scripture and tradition (just to name a few different ways of thought).
I would believe that most, if not all of us, have confronted in our family and circle of friends someone who feels they are in the bind of passing-on two different faith traditions to one set of children. Of course, I would encourage the passing-on of our Catholic tradition, but I would also encourage teaching our children one particular faith tradition and not create confusion in their lives over the very meaning of Sacraments, Scripture, liturgical practice, formation of morals and Church history and tradition. Last month as we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord, reflect on the meaning of the Body of Christ. Please see, as St. Paul reminds us, that we are members of one another. Baptism assimilates us to Christ and as we unfold the mystery of the meaning of Baptism within Christ’s Body, THE CHURCH, it is then that we understand the meaning of mercy, love and the proper way to live life ordered to one day sharing in the Resurrection of Christ. In short, Baptism invites us to live a life within the life of the Church. Baptism invites us to accept, embrace and love the Truth of God as defined within the Catholic Church and to make that Truth the very foundation of our life. I know I have made the Catholic faith the single foundation of my life. No house has two or three different foundations and remains standing. A solid house has one solid foundation, and as the Scripture reminds us, the solid house has a foundation built solidly on rock and weathers all of the storms. It remains standing. When you study the lives of the martyrs, one has to recognize their faith was the very foundation of their lives. Maybe one of the reasons why so many turn away from faith is because there is not one solid rock foundation for them; but, foundations built on the sands of confusion regarding the Truth of God and faith.
May we renew our own commitment of Baptism, today. May we desire to live a life within the life of the Church, and trust the Truth of our Church enough to be the rock foundation for a joy-filled and fulfilled life in this world, as we prepare for the fullness of life in the world to come (as did Agatha and Paul Miki and his friends).
Finally, I want to thank all those who were so kind and generous to remember me at Christmas with cards, gifts, cookies, food, cakes and even a few bottles of wine! (Except for the wine), I recently consumed the last of Christmas! Your kindness is greatly appreciated. May God continue to bless you!
In this week’s Second Reading from St. Paul presents a challenge to the Church 2000 years ago…and to us today: are we willing to be led, or do we wish to lead our leaders? It is important to use the standard of the Gospel to assess our leadership. If Church leaders are in the truth of the Gospel…are we willing to trust their leadership (even if we disagree with their decisions)?
This is an important question to ask, both with our ability to follow our Church leaders (pope, bishop, priests, deacons, religious and consecrated as well as lay leaders) as well as civil officials. Do you wish to be led by Christ and the Gospel; or, by popular thought, politically correct ways of thinking, and/or relativism?
Are you willing to be led even if you do not know where you are going? This is an increasingly difficult issue for many of us. We are willing to follow…provided that we are given a full trip-tic and tour of the journey.
I sense this in many facets of our own parish life. We are not willing to go on a retreat or attend a class or program if we do not have full disclosure of the agenda and content prior to attending. Are we willing to trust in faith that we need to be led, and all that is necessary will be revealed when we need to possess the knowledge?
Worship is essential to the life of faith and to understanding mercy. As we are now in the New Year, are we willing to really worship God with our full mind, heart and soul? Perhaps a good New Year’s Resolution would be to truly spend time in worship. Although I admire families who work hard to make sure they “get to Mass” on the weekend, amidst many other obligations and activities, I often wonder what long-term effect this has on true worship. Can we take the time to block off and be in church five or ten minutes prior to Mass to reflect on the readings and pray, in order to truly worship, rather than be looking around to see who else is around us. And maybe even stay for a few minutes (let everyone else leave) to pray and reflect on what was just celebrated with our Lord?
If we are able to follow all of the above we may realize that God is going to call us to discern His Will, and to understand and live His Mercy in a much different way than we currently understand.
The final question is this: Will we be able to change our plans and directions, as St. Paul suggests, based on what we discern God’s Will to truly be? The only means to discern His will is to take time to listen and seek direction from those He gives us as leaders and guides.
It is that time of the year again! I am not talking about the cold and the snow, although that is here as well. “It” refers to Ordinary Time. For a brief period we will be in “Ordinary Time” of the Church’s liturgical cycle.
We finished the celebration of the Christmas Season last Sunday with the Baptism of the Lord. Two weeks ago Monday, we began Ordinary Time. This calls us to reflect on Jesus’ ministry. When we heard about His Baptism from the hands of John…we will continue this Sunday to hear about His ministry. John may be arrested…but…that will not stop Jesus and the establishment of His gospel and His Church. In Mark’s Gospel, the arrest of John the Baptist begins Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus goes out and begins to date His…soon to be…Bride the Church.
Briefly, this is not a story of “a” nuptial union, but a description of “the” nuptial union: the wedding of the Lamb; the Kingdom of Heaven, which is “the” nuptial union. All of the Baptized are in a covenant with God, which culminates in eternal life. Eternal life is the perfection of the nuptial union. This nuptial union is symbolized for us in the marriage of husband and wife.
The scripture is loaded with spousal language. In the Old Testament, we hear God speak in spousal language in reference of Himself with His spouse, the chosen people of Israel. In the New Testament, we hear spousal language often. John the Baptist, of Advent and Christmas memory, has been referred to as the “best man” to the bridegroom (Jesus). Jesus refers to Himself as the bridegroom in different places in the Gospels. It is Jesus Who is the future Bridegroom in today’s Gospel and we are His Bride, as we come to understand the fullness of the nuptial union in heaven. As we see the permanent commitment, faithfulness, love and sacrifice of husband and wife, we are reminded that Jesus will never abandon His Bride, the Church.
We are also reminded of Jesus’ perfect faithfulness to each of us. He will always honor the truth of the relationship we share with Him. Jesus’ perfect love is sacrificial, as He gave His life for us on the Cross. Today’s Gospel reminds us of the importance of the Sacrament of Marriage and why we, as a Church, honor and protect its meaning and integrity. God is the Author of life, and husband and wife are invited to be co-creators with God. In their marriage they have the potential to create life. This sacrament reminds us of the nuptial union of heaven and the perfect marriage of God with each of us (born and unborn). Just as sin entered into the world through a woman, Eve, so too, redemption enters into the world through a woman, Mary. Adam, in Genesis, tells God the “woman” You put here gave me the fruit to eat,” and in John’s Gospel Jesus tells us His Mother, Mary, is the “woman” through whom redemption from sin takes place.
As we live our Baptism, which leads to the permanent nuptial union in Heaven, we look, as the “Bride” of Christ, to become one daily with our Bridegroom…Jesus.
It is essential that as practicing Catholics we renew our witness of Faith and Life. All of us are required to make this witness to the “Gospel of Life” in a public display. The greatest scandal to our country (and to our world) is the majority of the “American Catholic vote” is seduced by the pro-abortion, pro-contraception, pro-culture of death. It is for this reason I am calling the parishes under my authority to step forward this year and join me TO BE SEEN in guiding and encouraging the citizens of South Dakota next Sunday, January 21, 2017, at 2:00 PM in the State Capitol Rotunda in Pierre. (And also, the Life Chain will be from 12:30-1:30 PM, meeting in the north parking lot of the State Capitol – Life needs your Light (and your presence.) We are so lucky to live near Pierre – not having to drive as far as so many will – to represent Life.
St. John’s Gospel continually refers to Jesus, in Whom we place our faith, as “Life” many times. To say “yes” to Christ is to say “yes” to life. And to say yes to life is to say no to whatever destroys it. People of faith work to end abortion. As we celebrated the renewal of Christmas, let’s renew our pro-life commitment and increase our prolife activities. (What a great gift we can give to the Baby Jesus…our presence and public support of the most vulnerable of modern society…a baby child in the womb.)
“My thoughts turn to all those children today who are killed and ill-treated, [the] infants killed in the womb, deprived of that generous love of their parents and then buried in the egoism of a culture that does not love life…”
– Pope Francis
MERRY CHRISTMAS! I love saying that as we celebrate the Epiphany (also known as “a little Christmas” or the feast of the “Three Kings” or the visit of the Magi). As we continue to celebrate the Christmas Season, much of the outside world has moved far beyond Christmas day. I have seen many a Christmas tree already taken down and waiting to be picked up and transformed into mulch. Within the Church, we continue to celebrate the Birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Today is traditionally a day that we pray God’s blessings on our homes. Traditionally, (as Father Lance has done in the rectory) you mark the top inside threshold of your entry ways to your house with the initials of the three Kings, along with the year. It would look like this: “20 + C + M + B + 18” – this represents our current new year “2018” along with the initials for the names of the wise men who continue to seek out Jesus (traditionally Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar). Of Course, the other explanation of “C + M + B” is: “Christus mansionem benedicat” or “May Christ bless this dwelling place.”
It is a wonderful opportunity to gather your family in prayer. Perhaps read the Gospel from today again at home (cf. Matthew 2:1–12) and then proceed to mark the top of your thresholds with chalk. (It is a wonderful and special custom to (safely) burn the incense to fill your home with its aroma. Very Old Testament!) Along with the reading and the marking of the threshold, you may wish to offer a prayer of your own asking God to bless your home. Maybe, you may use the following prayer:
Blessed are You, Lord God of all creation; by the guidance of a star
You led the Magi to Your Child,
and by the light of faith You bring us to know
Christ as Lord, the Messiah You have sent.
Bless us as we use this chalk to mark our doors in Your honor;
May our home be a dwelling place of goodness, humility, self-control,
Mutual respect for one another, hospitality toward strangers,
And loving obedience to Your Word.
We ask this through Christ our Lord, AMEN.
If you choose to continue (or to begin for the first time this beautiful custom…or not), please use this day and this week to pray God’s blessing upon your family and upon your home. May God bless you, our Mother Mary watch over you and all the saints intercede for you, always. Happy New Year – 2018!!